Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

Karen Frazier
Frozen shoulder

Shoulder pain and loss of movement from frozen shoulder can cause a significant alteration in lifestyle. Fortunately, there's hope for people who suffer from this condition. With a treatment and exercise program, you'll be back to your old lifestyle in no time.

What Is Frozen Shoulder?

If you have trouble reaching overhead or temporarily lose the ability to move your arm freely, there's a chance you may be suffering from what is known as a frozen shoulder. The stiffening of the shoulder joint is due to inflammation in or near the shoulder as part of your body's protective reflex. Your body is trying to keep your shoulder from further injury by immobilizing it.

Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

For 95 percent of people who suffer from frozen shoulder, the stiffness and immobility is totally reversible through stretching exercises. During recovery, your doctor may recommend the following to encourage healing:

  • Limit activity: Limit overhead positioning, reaching, and lifting. You can ease these restrictions as pain decreases and flexibility increases.
  • Pain relief medication: Use acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen, to manage pain.
  • 10-15 minutes of moist heat: Apply moist heat before exercising. This type of heat helps get tissues ready for stretching. You can achieve this by taking a warm shower or bath, or by using a heating pad with a moist towel. The least effective moist heat application is heating a moist towel in the microwave. If you choose to try this application, be aware that microwave intensity varies, so be careful not to burn yourself.

Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

There are several exercises that can help manage frozen shoulder.

Rage of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises are designed to maintain flexibility of the shoulder muscles and tendons. When performing these exercises, it's important to pay attention to pain. It should not exceed mild levels. If you experience a sharp or tearing pain, then stop the exercise immediately and see your doctor.

Weighted Pendulum Stretch

This stretching exercise is usually followed for two to three weeks and accomplishes two functions. It stretches the space housing the tendons and relieves pressure on the tendons. You can begin this exercise almost immediately after your shoulder injury. However, before starting, apply heat for five minutes two times a day.

  1. Relax shoulder muscles.
  2. Sit or stand while keeping your arm vertical and close to your body.
  3. Let your arm swing forward to back, followed by a side to side motion, and then in small circles in each direction. Stop if you experience discomfort.
  4. Stretch your arm without additional weight for three days to a week before adding 1 or 2 pounds and gradually increase weight and diameter of movement which is not to exceed 18-24 inches.

Passive Stretching Exercises

These exercises stretch the shoulder to the point of tension but not pain. If you experience extreme discomfort, it usually means you're overstretching. Passive stretching should be performed following the execution of the pendulum stretch exercise listed above. Passive stretches loosen the tightened shoulder lining and re-establish your normal range of motion. Perform in sets of 10-20 once or twice a day for several months.

Armpit stretch

Lift your affected arm with your good arm and place it on a dresser, shelf or something similar that is chest high. While your arm rests, slightly bend at the knees, opening up the armpit. Work to push the affected arm a little farther with each stretch.

Finger walk

For this exercise, face a wall while standing about three-quarters of an arm's length away. Concentrate on using your fingers to walk up the wall to raise your arm to shoulder level.

Towel stretch

Use a three-foot-long towel for this passive stretch. Grasp each end with both hands behind your back. Hold it at a 45 degree angle. With your good arm, pull your weak arm toward the lower back.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening and toning exercises increase muscle and are an important part in the recovery from frozen shoulder. Before starting these exercises, warm up your joint with cardiovascular exercise or a warm pack followed by stretching exercises. General guidelines for strengthening exercises are as follows:

  1. Rest for two to three minute between sets.
  2. Perform 15 to 20 sets of each strengthening exercise every day (hold each rep for five seconds).
  3. Perform exercises using flexible rubber tubing, a bungee cord, or a resistance exercise band.

Outward rotation

With elbows close to your sides, held at 90 degree angles, hold a towel at your side between your torso and your elbow. This will train you to position your elbow by your side. Hold one end of a resistance band in each hand. Rotate your injured arm outward two or three inches. Hold for five seconds and return to starting position. While performing this exercise, move through all the ranges of motion you can perform without pain. As you do, keep your shoulder blades squeezed down and back.

Inward rotation

This exercise is executed with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and held close to your side. First, hook your resistance band onto a door handle. Grab the other end with the hand of the arm you're exercising and rotate your forearm towards the body two or three inches. Hold for five seconds.

Lifting

Bend elbows to 90 degrees again and place your resistance band around your arms and near the elbows. Lift your arms four or five inches from the body. Hold for five seconds


Cautions

Working through these exercises may result in mild soreness. Remember, if you experience sharp pain, it may be signaling an underlying problem and should be reported to your doctor.

Exercises for Frozen Shoulder